Eddie Jones’ reign as England head coach began in earnest this weekend, and it appears his focus has been more on the culture off the pitch than on it.
Under Stuart Lancaster, England were modest, self-deprecating and almost likeable (almost). Under Jones, all the looks set to change as the Australian looks to imbue a sense of swagger and arrogance into his side that has been missing over the last few years.
Let’s face it, England will never be a likeable side. Not because they don’t have humble players, and not because their players embarrass themselves (too often), but simply because they are England. Rivalries both sporting and historic ensure that no matter what England do on and off the pitch, they will never be liked. They may earn the oppositions begrudging respect, but that is as far as it will ever go.
Jones has clearly given up on the notion that England need to be seen as the ‘nice guys’ in order to succeed, and has instead focussed on moulding his team in his own image, ensuring that they aren’t afraid to put a few noses out of joint if the occasion demands it.
This process began pretty early on when Dylan Hartley was named as captain of the side. Let’s face it, he’s not exactly Mr Popular, even in England, but what he does do, is bring a bit of aggressiveness back into the key decision making role. If Jones wants England to operate in the murky grey areas (and sometimes beyond), then there aren’t many better proponents of this that Hartley.
Given such little time to prepare, this new attitude wasn’t too apparent out on the pitch at Murrayfield this weekend, however there were glimpses of what is to come. The defence was resolute, whilst England’s players proved they weren’t afraid to get stuck in.
It was after the game however that Jones’ plan became most apparent as he went about making bold claims about his side. Vunipola’s impressive man of the match award was highlighted by Jones, who claimed his number 8 could become one of the best in the world. He was equally effusive about the rest of his team, including the much maligned Dan Cole.
These post match comments where a clear indication that humility has well and truly gone out of the window for England. Instead there is a focus on making the team believe that they are the best around. Only then, might Jones then look to imbue a sense of humbleness in his side, in much the same way as Steve Hansen has made the All Blacks the best side in the world, whilst ensuring the team culture is solid.
You only have to look back to the team Clive Woodward coached to World Cup glory to see the importance of not caring what anyone thought about England. Martin Johnson was an all time great, but he was never going to be a popular player outside of England. His resolute stance over which side his team stood in Dublin back in 2003 was just one highlight of his somewhat controversial reign as captain.
It’s clear that Jones is looking to get England back to that mentality where his side never takes a step back, no matter what the circumstances. Given England are unlikely to ever be a popular side, this seems like the sensible approach to take.